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Jaidev, the composer who began as a comedian

Before he became a music composer, Jaidev journeyed in the Hindi film industry as an actor and an assistant.

Sonal Pandya

Kenya-born composer Jaidev Verma, better known to cineastes and music lovers by his first name only, was encouraged by his mother at a young age to learn music. By five, he could play the harmonica while his brother played the tabla.

Jaidev was born in Nairobi on 3 August 1919 and came to India in 1927. After living in Lahore and Ludhiana, he ran away to Bombay (now Mumbai) to become an actor after being mesmerized by the film Ali Baba (1932).

As a teenager, Jaidev acted in a couple of Wadia Movietone films from the famous Hunterwali (1935) to Miss Frontier Mail (1936). In Hunterwali, Master Jaidev was dubbed the ‘Indian Frankie Darro’ (a Hollywood child actor who worked in stunt films) in the opening credits. As the one-eyed Chunnoo Bhanje, he provided the comic element in the film. Along with Munchi Toothi, who played his uncle, Munoo Mama, they assisted Fearless Nadia as Princess Madhuri in her quest for justice.

Master Jaidev in a still from Miss Frontier Mail (1936)

Meanwhile, in Miss Frontier Mail, he played Nadia’s brother Jayant, a film enthusiast who accidentally films some gangsters in a criminal act. In lesser known Wadia Movietone films like Kala Gulab (1934) and Desh Deepak (1935), he again had significant roles. Jaidev essayed the role of the Boy-Prince in Desh Deepak while in Kala Gulab, ‘an Arabian Nights fantasy in dramatic style’, he was part of the comic relief with Minoo Cooper and Ali Dadan as Latak, Matak and Chatak.

This acting detour did not hinder Jaidev's musical journey. Even after he returned to Ludhiana to tend to his ill father and family, he continued to work on his music lessons. After his father’s death, Jaidev trained under sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in Lucknow.

When Chetan Anand asked the ustad to compose the music for Aandhiyaan (1952), Jaidev became his assistant on the film. With Taxi Driver (1954), he became SD Burman’s assistant. Eventually, Chetan Anand gave him his break as an independent film composer with Joru Ka Bhai (1955).

Jaidev's music was often mistaken for that of his mentor, SD Burman. When Burman was ill, he asked Navketan to give his assistant a chance to score the music for Hum Dono (1961). With lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi, all seven songs from the soundtrack from 'Abhi Na Jao Chhodkar' to ‘Main Zindagi Ka Saath' to ‘Allah Tero Naam’ became classics. And the album became the most well-known music composition of his career.

Jaidev was the only music composer of his time to win the National award for Best Music Director three times – for Reshma Aur Shera (1971), Gaman (1978), and Ankahee (1984). Today, only Ilayaraja and AR Rahman have more wins than him while composer turned filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj is tied with three for Godmother (1999), Ishqiya (2010) and Haider (2014). Unfortunately, despite all the acclaim, many of the films that Jaidev composed for weren’t financially successful.

Early on, Jaidev took on the responsibility for his family and getting his sister settled, as the phrase goes. He believed his musical lifestyle wasn’t conducive to marriage and remained a bachelor until his death on 6 January 1987. Shortly before he died, he was awarded the Lata Mangeshkar award for Lifetime Achievement by the government of Madhya Pradhesh.